Last Friday, Queens Paideia was overcome by Harry Potter fever. It’s a simple idea: run the day around HP-themed activities, tell the kids (and the staff) that they can wear costumes, and the rest is magic. So simple, so much fun, the kids will never forget it. So, shouldn’t that be enough?
Sure, it’s enough if easy and fun are the main goals. But life at QPS is never quite so simple. Anything we do has to be tied to some larger curricular concept(s) or meaning. As ELA instructor and HP Festival organizer Jonathan Acampora says to students about a book or text they have read, we always need to ask and answer the question, “So what?”
There were many so what?s on display last Friday, and on the days leading up to it. On the “making” level–what we could refer to as executive function–we saw students:
- Self-organize into activities, food, and decoration committees that planned meetings and actually made things happen during them.
- Skip recess on consecutive days to paint “house” banners and other necessary demarcations. No supervision from the adults, just no-nonsense painting and clean up.
- Generate a Google Doc spreadsheet so parents could sign up to bring in HP foods, and email follow ups as needed.
- Research and pull together trivia questions.
- Prepare for the big day by using their research skills to find answers to questions they had about the book, and then use that research to “cite evidence” as needed during the trivia game.
- Lead activities at the festival, so that QPS staff understood that their job was to step back and let these kids do their thing.
One more so what: We saw students who never thought they could read Harry Potter (because it’s “too hard”) pick up the books and start to read them. When kids take a step toward something they aren’t sure they can do, it builds self-confidence. In this case, it also builds identity as a reader. In today’s media-saturated culture–they could just watch the movies, right?–anything that gets our students reading, and keeps them reading, automatically qualifies as a success.
Our youngest students caught the bug too, and incorporated what they heard from older kids into their imaginative play. QPS students often spend their free time talking about books and content that they have come across or learned while at school. It’s one of our best ways of knowing that they have made contact with what’s on offer at their school.